Philosophy Arthur Schopenhauer
Dale Jacquette
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0250


Arthur Schopenhauer (b. 1788–d. 1860) was a private scholar and philosopher. Although Schopenhauer was largely ignored by the professional academic philosophical community during his lifetime, he exerted increasing influence on German and international philosophy, literature, and the arts later in life and more profoundly after his death. Schopenhauer’s philosophy can be explained as a distinctly original synthesis of Kant, Plato, and Eastern thought, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. Schopenhauer understands his philosophy as the true heir of Kant’s critical idealism, on some parts of which Schopenhauer develops his own brand of post-Kantian transcendental idealism. The world for Schopenhauer has two aspects: the phenomenal world we experience in sensation and perception, and a transcendental world of Kantian Thing-in-itself, which Schopenhauer identifies with Will. The world as Will is pure willing, for Schopenhauer, in the sense that it is uncaused, undirected, unmotivated blind urging. The Will is willing without willing anything in particular, or for any particular reason, and even without any cause, while lacking all logical and mathematical properties. The world as Will, lacking any specific object, is inevitably objectified in the world as representation in conflict, strife, competition, opposition, and suffering. The world in reality, identified by Schopenhauer as Will, because it must be objectified in conflict, is seen by Schopenhauer philosophically, for this reason, from a technically pessimistic perspective. The Kantian distinction between the mind’s experiential world (Vorstellung) and Thing-in-itself, the world as it is in itself and independently of thought (Ding an sich), interpreted by Schopenhauer not as Kantian noumenon but knowable intuitively and supported by metaphysical reasoning as pure willing (der Wille), links together all the several parts of Schopenhauer’s philosophical system, like spokes from a wheel’s hub. Beginning with his epistemology and metaphysics, and proceeding systematically to his philosophy of science, logic and mathematics; philosophy of religion; philosophy of art; ethics, moral, and political philosophy, Schopenhauer encourages the image of a flower opening when he describes developing the several related parts of his philosophy as the progressive unfolding of a single idea.

General Overviews

There are numerous useful introductions to Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Different writers reflect different individual main interests in and philosophical prejudices about different parts of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, and the like. Specialized topics in Schopenhauer are indicated also in the references catalogued in this article, in Epistemology, Philosophy of Science, Logic, and Mathematics; Metaphysics; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art; Moral Philosophy, Ethics, and Politics; etc., and in the catchall, Relevant Secondary Literature. All entries are in alphabetical order. The recommendations are those judged to offer the best and most frequently cited general introductory overviews of Schopenhauer’s thought. Particularly useful for students with analytic philosophical background are Gardiner 1967, Hamlyn 1980, Jacquette 2005, and Janaway 1994. Readers seeking a more cultural introduction to Schopenhauer, with emphasis on Schopenhauer’s Kantian philosophical background, will appreciate especially Magee 1983, Odell 2001, Tanner 1999, Wicks 2008, and Young 2005. All of these sources should be accessible to patient readers of popular nonfiction, as well as those with study background and training in philosophy. They do not necessarily reflect widely agreed-upon interpretations of Schopenhauer’s thought in areas where there remain interesting controversies. Gardiner 1967 is weighted in emphasis toward Schopenhauer’s ethics. Hamlyn 1980 is part of a series that abstracts arguments from the writings of selected philosophers, and as such does not emphasize the historical philosophical or cultural background to Schopenhauer’s thought. It nevertheless provides a useful sense of many of Schopenhauer’s arguments. Jacquette 2005 presents a rounded discussion of all major aspects of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, ranging from epistemology to metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of religion and philosophy of art, as well as Schopenhauer’s influence in philosophy and the arts, in condensed historical and biographical context. Janaway 1994 offers one of the most abbreviated overviews of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, with emphasis on Schopenhauer’s subject-object duality. Magee 1983 is a more demanding introduction to Schopenhauer’s philosophy with strong emphasis on its Kantian background. Odell 2001 and Tanner 1999 might be compared alike with Janaway 1994 as extremely condensed and proportionately sketchy general introductions to Schopenhauer. As a good place to start, they are best approached as intended to whet a reader’s appetite for more in-depth critical analysis of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Wicks 2008 is useful especially as counter-balancing some of the accounts that depend too heavily on Schopenhauer’s epistemology and metaphysics. Wicks understands Schopenhauer’s philosophy along classic Stoic philosophical lines as intended primarily to facilitate achievement of a state of tranquility through theoretical understanding of the nature of reality. Young 2005 outlines the main features of Schopenhauer’s philosophy and at the same time devotes more attention than many introductions to Schopenhauer’s aesthetics and philosophy of art.

  • Gardiner, Patrick. Schopenhauer. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1967.

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    NNNClear and elegant exposition of the main lines of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Particularly useful in understanding the Kantian background to Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and opposition to Kant’s ethics. (New Impression edition 1971).

  • Hamlyn, D. W. Schopenhauer. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

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    NNNThis book is part of the Routledge series Arguments of the Philosophers. It targets analytically trained philosophers who want a sense of a thinker’s reasoning, and is worthwhile as an introduction, although the book is light on the historical background to Schopenhauer, and especially on the Asian elements of Schopenhauer’s thought.

  • Jacquette, Dale. The Philosophy of Schopenhauer. Chesham, UK: Acumen, 2005.

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    NNNAn overall coverage of Schopenhauer’s ideas, critically examining his epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of religion, ethics, aesthetics, moral pessimism, and sketching a portrait of Schopenhauer’s life. Accessible to a wide readership, while maintaining high standards of historical grounding and philosophical argument.

  • Janaway, Christopher. Schopenhauer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    NNNIn the Oxford Past Masters series, this compact introduction to Schopenhauer’s philosophy covers all major topics in Schopenhauer’s thought in its essentials. A remarkable accomplishment in such a short space, this book can be profitably read in an afternoon as entry to Schopenhauer’s system.

  • Magee, Bryan. The Philosophy of Schopenhauer. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983.

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    NNNMagee’s well-received book is more expansive than some of the short introductory items in this list and treats in great detail the most important aspects of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. It is particularly strong on the Kantian precedents to Schopenhauer and Schopenhauer’s enthusiastic acceptance of and philosophical opposition to different parts of Kant’s critical idealism and rationalist formalist deontology in ethics. Revised and enlarged edition 1997.

  • Odell, S. Jack. On Schopenhauer. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001.

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    NNNAnother serviceable short introduction to Schopenhauer’s transcendental idealism, in the Wadsworth Philosophers series. Suitable for classroom introduction of Schopenhauer as a quick overview, or in courses that include other thinkers besides Schopenhauer.

  • Tanner, Michael. Schopenhauer. New York: Routledge, 1999.

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    NNNWell-conceived biographical introduction to Schopenhauer and selected aspects of his lifework in the Routledge Great Philosophers series. Easily digested in a single reading and affording a broad perspective on Schopenhauer’s contributions to major areas of philosophy in his time.

  • Wicks, Robert. Schopenhauer. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470696668Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    NNNExplains Schopenhauer’s metaphysics primarily as directed toward attaining tranquility of soul accomplished by Schopenhauer’s twofold path toward transcending the individual will to life, in ascetic renunciation and aesthetic contemplation. Especially detailed in its discussion of Schopenhauer’s moral philosophy.

  • Young, Julian. Schopenhauer. London: Routledge, 2005.

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    NNNCovers all aspects of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, with special emphasis on Schopenhauer’s aesthetics, and a detailed account of Schopenhauer’s remarkable metaphysics of direct unmediated objectification of the world as Will.

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